Helping Your Child Succeed: The Best Educational Placement For Students Who Are Blind
By: Anita Adkins
How do you make the right decision as to where and how to educate your child, especially if that child happens to be blind? To provide you with this information, you may consult experts in both the fields of education and blindness who are objective and concerned about you and your child. In addition, it is necessary for you to gather data from a variety of sources that will allow you to make an informed decision about your child’s least restrictive environment (LRE). According to Huebner, Garber, and Wormsley (2006),
One of the key requirements of educating children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the least restrictive environment mandate (LRE), which states: to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities . . . are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily [Sec. 612 (a)(5)(A)] (p. 1).
Research indicates that the most effective placement for a child who is blind depends on that child’s needs, and therefore, must be determined only after several factors, including the provision of trained personnel, the availability of resources and technology, and the child’s own ability to adapt to his environment, have been evaluated.
Before you begin to form an opinion as to your child’s best educational placement, it is necessary to examine all possible options. According to Smith (2006), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 (IDEA) requires that a continuum of options are available to students who are blind, including full inclusion in the general education classroom, a resource room, and a residential school for the blind (p. 5-6). Keep in mind that none of these options are inferior to the other; the best placement depends on the particular child and not the school setting. Visiting each placement option will enable you to get a view of the environment and will enable you to interview the child’s prospective teacher and other professionals to determine precisely what services are available and who will be working directly and indirectly with your child. It is critical to continually evaluate your child’s school setting, and, if appropriate, switch to a different setting.
For your child to be successful within any of the placement options, qualified professionals in the field of blindness must be available on a regular basis. The American Foundation for the Blind (2009) claims that “there is a severe shortage of orientation and mobility specialists and qualified teachers of visually impaired students.“ This means that a TVI might not be available for your child if he attends the local public school, especially if you live in a rural area (What Are The Challenges Facing Visually Impaired Children section). According to Conroy (2007), working with your child on skills in academic subjects, adapting activities and lessons to meet the child’s exceptional needs and travelling with your child around the school and within the classroom are responsibilities of paraprofessionals (pp. 8-9). Paraprofessionals are assistants who are more likely to work with students with exceptionalities, including students who are blind, within the general education classroom. Generally, they are not trained in blindness skills or core subjects and receive low wages, meaning that your child may not be receiving instruction from a qualified teacher (p. 17). Likewise, just because your child is attending a residential school for the blind does not mean that he is receiving appropriate services or that qualified professionals are providing training in expanded core curriculum skills, such as Orientation And Mobility (O&M). J. Adkins claims that during the decade he attended a residential school for the blind, he received very limited training in O&M even though a qualified instructor was employed at the school at the time of his enrollment (personal communication, November 21, 2009).
In addition, it is critical to determine the child’s needs. Huebner et al. (2006) claim that you must take into consideration the child’s unique circumstances, including his level of vision, how long he has been blind and his additional challenges, if any (p. 6). According to Huebner (1989), you must base placement on the environment which enables the child to be a full participant and one where he can benefit socially, emotionally and academically (as cited in Huebner et al., 2006, p. 5). A survey conducted by Phillips and Corn (2003) discovered that students who are blind and who attended a special school for the blind enjoyed being in a class with a small number of students, being around other students who are blind, making friends and having more options to participate in social and extracurricular activities (Results section). For some students, a special school for the blind is able to provide the appropriate services and opportunities for socialization. However, other students are able to acquire these needed services and peer interactions in a public school setting. For example, Shannon, a blind student who attended a general education classroom in a public school in her local school district, had a TVI present in the classroom who developed a relationship with the general education classroom teacher. This enabled the two of them to “plan, assess and solve problems.” He also adapted lessons and provided other necessary services (Krebs, 2000, p. 5). As a result, Shannon was able to successfully participate in class. In addition, Huebner et al. emphasize that the method in which the child can best learn should also be considered when assessing the child’s needs. These may include:
sound and touch
“direct instruction in skills that others learn incidentally through observation and modeling”
specialized materials, such as Braille or large print, that he may need
training in the “expanded core curriculum”
necessary technology and other devices that will enable him to access and provide written or other required assignments in an appropriate manner
one on one instruction when it is appropriate (pp. 2-3)
You must also assess your own ability to meet the child’s needs by evaluating the time, resources and support you can provide, and you must use this assessment to determine the best placement.
Next, it is advantageous to examine what the blind themselves have to say about placement. D. Chives is a student who is blind who was fully included in the general education classroom. She claims, “As an educator, or at least a future one, I'd like to think that all students can be reached in a ‘traditional’ setting, but that isn't reality. Reality is that not all students can function and be successful in a general education classroom, and that refers to all students with acceptionalities [sic], not just the visually-impaired. I guess my best and easiest answer to the question of which setting is better is whichever setting gives the student [who is blind] the best chance to be successful. The stronger the support system, the better chance a student is going to have, no matter where they are” (Personal Communication, November 19, 2009). S. Wells, who attended a variety of classroom environments, including full inclusion in a general education classroom, classes with in a resource room in local public schools near her home, and a residential school for the blind, agrees that the best placement for a student who is blind depends on that student’s needs. Many factors play a role in determining these needs, including the home environment of the child, the ability of the particular school to provide an environment in which the child can learn to interact with and function within the sighted world, and the child’s social environment (Personal Communication, November 18, 2009). For example, when she attended the residential school for the blind, the other students within her particular grade functioned cognatively at a lower level, meaning that she had challenges with social interaction. This was also the case in the resource room at her local public school. D. Williamson (2009) states: “I think that there are benefits from both attendance at a residential school and in a public school. I think that the decision of where a student attends school should be based upon the needs of the individual student. I think younger and newly-blind students should have the opportunity to develop basic educational and independent living skills at a residential school and, then, perhaps move on to a public school setting” (Personal Communication, November 23, 2009).
You must also become informed about any aspect of blindness with which you are not comfortable or knowledgeable. Becoming acquainted with an organization of the blind, such as the American Council of the Blind (www.acb.org) or the National Federation of the blind (www.nfb.org), will enable you to meet successful adults who are blind and can provide you and your child with information and positive solutions for overcoming the challenges associated with blindness. These organizations can also provide you with information on local support groups of parents with blind children in your area in which you can gather information from others and share your own triumphs and frustrations. Moreover, it is helpful to make a record of what you have learned and what you still need to discover, as this will enable you to develop a questionnaire to aid you in the decision-making process. Research via the Internet and other media outlets can also be beneficial in helping you acquire information.
In conclusion, the best educational placement for your child depends on his individual needs and the qualified professionals and resources available. Examining the benefits and challenges for all available options and gathering information from qualified individuals and from other sources about blindness are key in making the best decision. It is critical to continually monitor how your child is adjusting to the current setting and to alter his or her placement, if necessary.
American Foundation for the Blind. (2009). Specialized education services for children who are blind or visually impaired. Retrieved from http://www.afb.org/section.asp?SectionID=58&DocumentID=1243
Conroy, P. W. (2007). Paraprofessionals and students with visual impairments: Potential pitfalls and solutions. Re:view, 39(2), p. 43-55. Retrieved from ProQuest database (1489114221).
Huebner, K. M., Garber, M., Wormsley, D. P. (2006). Student-centered educational placement decisions: The meaning, interpretation, and application of least restrictive environment for students with visual impairments. Pp. 1-12. Retrieved from http://www.cecdvi.org/positionpapers.html
Krebs, C. S. (2000). Beyond blindfolds: Creating an inclusive classroom through collaboration. Re:view, 31(4), p. 180-186. Retrieved from ERIC (EBSCO) database (EJ603349). & Academic Search Complete (EBSCO) database (2858099).
Phillips, J. E., Corn, A. L. (2003). An initial study of students' perceptions of their education placement at a special school for the blind. Re:View, Retrieved from Academic Search Complete (EBSCO) database (08991510).
Smith, D. (2006). Least-restrictive environment for students with visual impairments. Journal of visual impairment & blindness, 100(10), p. 592-593. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete (EBSCO) database (23057193).